Thursday, June 16, 2016

Six Ways to Improve Your Congregation’s Singing

By Robin G. Jordan

Here are six ways to help your congregation to sing better.

1. Teach the members of the congregation the proper way to hold a hymnal. Most people hold a hymnal at chest-level. Consequently, they look downward at the page when they sing. Instead of singing out, they sing into the hymnal. The position of their head puts pressure on their larynx, or voice box, making it difficult to project their voice. In order to sing out, they should hold the hymnal level with their face with the hymnal tilted at an angle which permits them to read the words and the musical notation on the page but does not block the sound of their voice. Their elbows can rest lightly against the sides of their chest, helping to support the weight of the hymnal.

The members of the congregation should be able to hear the combined voices of the entire congregation, not just the voices of whoever is close to them.

2. Encourage the members of the congregation to sit close together and not scattered around the room. This will amplify the sound of their combined voices. Hearing their combined voices will reinforce their singing. 

3.Teach the members of the congregation the proper way to breathe. How the members of the congregation breathe when they are singing is important. They should breathe with their “diaphragm”—the lower muscles of their abdomen, and not with the top of their lungs. This increases the volume of air in their lungs and enables them to project their voice and maintain long notes. If they are singing while seated, they should sit on the edge of their seats.

4. Encourage the members of the congregation to sing the hymns and service music from the heart.  Provide them with the texts of the hymns and service music for the upcoming Sunday and encourage them to pray the texts and mediate on them during the week.

5. Practice the hymns and service music before the service. Good choirmasters will have their choirs rehearse the hymns and service music for Sunday as well as any special music. They will not focus solely on the special music. Going over the hymns and service music with congregation even just a few minutes before the service helps the members of the congregation become more confident in singing less familiar tunes and words. It helps the congregation get into the right frame of mind for the service. It conveys to the congregation that their participation in the singing is important.

It is a good idea to start pre-service congregational rehearsals with a short vocal warmup in the same way choir rehearsals are started. This will help the members of the congregation to sing without straining their voices.

How to Warm up Your Voice

When conducting pre-service congregational rehearsals, it is not necessary to sing the entire hymn if the hymn is familiar. One or two stanzas of the hymn will suffice. Less familiar hymns may require more than one or two stanzas.

6. Leave off the amen at the end of the hymns (except when it is part of the text of a hymn.) The practice of singing an amen at the end of every hymn has been discontinued in almost every hymnal published in United States since 1940. At the time of the publication of The Hymnal, 1940, it had already been discontinued in the United Kingdom. The practice originated in the late nineteenth century. It was unknown in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century.  By the early twentieth century English hymnists had come to recognize it as a mistake, one of a number of highly questionable musical practices promoted in the nineteenth century.

Most of the amens in Hymnal, 1940 are optional. They are set to a different tune than that of the hymn itself and have the effect of blunting the force of the hymn when they are sung at its conclusion. They are totally unnecessary as the congregation in singing the hymn has assented to its contents. The hymn has become the congregation’s prayer.

The Hymnal 1982, like almost all more recent hymnals, omits the extraneous amens.

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